Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" is actually pretty great. Buoyed by Leonardo DiCaprio's showcase performance and a visual sense that both captures and heightens the Roaring '20s, this latest attempt at bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald's great American novel to the big screen might be the best. (That, in and of itself, is saying something.) Luhrmann manages to celebrate the excess of the time period without giving it a full-throated endorsement -- an early, literal orgy is particularly unpleasant and ugly -- and then he doesn't let the careless characters off the hook when things get more melodramatic. "The Great Gatsby" is tight-rope walk and, with some stumbles here and there, Luhrmann makes a successful reach for the green light.
Which is why the film's presentation is such a bummer, like the hangover left behind after one of Gatsby's legendary parties. Luhrmann shot "The Great Gatsby" in 3D, an effect that was meant to enhance the viewing experience; instead, it only seems to have goosed the bottom line. Deadline.com reports that "Great Gatsby" has over-performed during early showings, putting it on track for an opening weekend north of $35 million.
"The 'special effect' in this movie is seeing fine actors in the prime of their acting careers tearing each other apart," Mr. Luhrmann explained in a telephone interview this week.
He spoke of using 3D not to create thrilling vistas or coming-at-you threats, but rather to find a new intimacy in film. He referred particularly to a climactic scene in which Daisy's husband, Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgerton), confronts Mr. DiCaprio's Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza hotel, all in three dimensions.
"How do you make it feel like you're inside the room?" he asked.
Not with 3D technology, it turns out. The scene Luhrmann describes is one of the high-points of "The Great Gatsby." Rather than put the audience "inside the room," however, the glasses create yet another layer of detachment. The trick doesn't work, and, worst of all, is unnecessary: during the Tuesday night media screening of "The Great Gatsby" at New York's Ziegfeld Theater, I frequently took off my 3D glasses and barely found the presentation any worse for wear. (Backgrounds, it should be noted, were a bit blurry, but at least everything was bright.) Even Luhrmann seems to lose interest in the 3D after a while; the party scenes might feature an array of glitter and fireworks popping off the screen, but by the time "The Great Gatsby" winds down to its mournful ending, the effect has long since been packed away.
"It's in 3D and I have never seen anything like this in 3D," Clarke, who plays George Wilson, gushed to The Playlist at the end of last year. "Fuck, you remember the detail in 'Moulin Rouge!'? It's not just like boom, boom, boom -- the lampshades, everything is coming out." Except for the everything part. If anything, the 3D muddies the detail that Luhrmann is famous for; how can you appreciate his exquisite set designs -- of which there are many; this movie could be called "The Great Set Designs" -- when you've got tinted plastic covering your field of vision?
So, "The Great Gatsby": see it for DiCaprio; see it for newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, who looks like a taller version of Zooey Deschanel and steals her scenes as Jordan Baker; see it for a chance to hear how Luhrmann utilizes that awesome, Jay-Z-produced soundtrack; see it to remember a high school classic. Just don't see it in 3D.